Attempting a Digital Detox in a Virtual Culture

Limiting screen time. Digital detox. Going unplugged.

All of these ideas are buzzing concepts at the moment and they sound really good. I think most adults are now aware of how easily screens, the internet, and social media can suck away your time and enjoyment of life. Studies show that social media use is linked to increased anxiety and depression, especially in adolescent girls.

What do we do? The fact remains that we need technology to function in modern society. I guess you could eschew all technology, move to the country, buy a self sustaining farm and live off of that; however, that’s not a real or desirable possibility for most. And when you’re trying to make dinner, the kids are crying, and your spouse isn’t home yet – a TV show that keeps them quiet and still for a few minutes can feel like a godsend.

Our lives are enriched by technology. When you get to video chat with a loved one who lives too far away, read something that makes you feel a little less alone, or research and learn information that wouldn’t have been accessible to you otherwise we see the best that modern technology has to offer. It isn’t all evil.

But we do need to be intentional. I think if you had a room of 100 adults and asked them how many of them think they are attached to a screen more often than they should be, I bet 100 of them would raise their hands. I know I would. Which is why I’ve been thinking about this question a lot over the past few months. How do I regain control of my digital life without detaching from the world completely?

You could take my husband’s approach – remove yourself from social media completely. He still uses plenty of screens at work and home, but he doesn’t do social media anymore. To betray my position though, I asked him not to delete his Facebook so that my account would still say “Married to Andy French”. Let’s just say I’m not writing this post from a position of superiority or elite status. But I wanted to share a few things that have actually been helping me remain connected but not feel ruled by my devices and accounts.

  • Use a timer app. This has been the game changer for me. I went through a season of social media binge/purge. I would get sucked in, staring at my phone in every free moment, feel bad, delete the apps for a while, detox, want to share a picture or send a dm, reinstall, repeat. I thought it was good when I deleted the apps, but overall it didn’t actually feel very healthy. There are a lot of independent timer apps and you can read reviews here but the one I like is the digital wellbeing app from Google. It allows me to set a timer for each app, and once I hit the limit it grays out the icon and I can’t open it again until the next day. I’ve found that 30 minutes on Facebook and 45 minutes on Instagram per day gives me enough time to both catch up and create content without getting too sucked in.
  • Use internet monitoring software (especially with kids). I preach this one to every person I can. It is one of my personal soapboxes. The internet gets really bad really fast. It is one thing to be spending too much time looking at cat pictures. It is another thing entirely to be sucked into pornography or the victim of cyber bullying. Having some experience in the IT field, all I can say is you can never take this threat too seriously as a parent. I think of it this way, you can’t keep your kids inside forever, but you can put them in a rear facing car seat – know what I mean? Even if your kids don’t have their own devices, if they are old enough to get on yours without you noticing (probably around age 2-4), you NEED internet monitoring software. You can get reviews of monitoring software and apps here but my personal favorite is Qustodio.
  • Take regular screen sabbaths or real life retreats. This will look different for each person and situation. Going on vacation? Dust off the real camera and leave your phone in the room a little bit more. Maybe have one thing each week that you don’t bring your phone to. For me, it is church. I always leave my phone in the car during church. When I feel myself getting too checked out in the evenings with my kids, I put the phone away on a shelf in another room. (Try to remember where you put it so you don’t end up in a frenzy the next morning. #protip)
  • Set up a designated screen area. Another way to say this is keep bedrooms screen free. I fail at this one regularly; I need to buy a real alarm clock. Growing up, my parents didn’t allow us to have TVs in our bedrooms. That was a gift. Have a central place in your home for your phone, tv, laptop, etc. that you can walk away from at the end of the day. Set it up as a charging station. I keep my phone in my room less now that I keep the charger in the kitchen.
  • Don’t be afraid to start over. Finding a good balance in life is worth fighting for. Don’t give up. I think one of the worst lies we can believe is that we’re too far gone, ruined forever. That idea flies directly in the face of the Gospel. Christ on the cross says you’re not ruined forever. You can start again. You’re worth it.

Postscript: Just a couple of thoughts on a season of life I’m not in yet. Be thoughtful about when to give your kids their own devices for the first time. Wait until 8th has some good resources. Also, set rules for your family and follow them yourself. If it is good for your kids, it is probably good for you too. 🙂

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